Thursday, October 17, 2013

No Egrets

Long-billed Dowitcher-Nanaimo Estuary

Throughout the year I feel I've done my best to manage work, a social life, a band, and a Big Year. I went in knowing that for me to be successful, the birds would have to take precedence over everything...except work of course. There are a lot of missed shows this year, birthdays, visiting friends and family, house cleaning, cat feedings, oil changes, doctors appointments, award galas...well, maybe not the last one.  All and all, I think I've managed it well...I mean, I haven't lost too many friends over it.

So I had a four day weekend the last of weekend of September, and things were getting wild. Red-throated Pipit were showing up in various places, an Oriental Turtle Dove was spotted in Tofino, a Booby species near Sechelt, and who knows what other birds could have been around that people weren't seeing. To top things off, a big storm was a-brewing, and my mouth watered while I dreamt of all the possible birds that could be blown in. Everything in me said this would be a Mega weekend, unfortunately, I had to explain that to my girlfriend, Vanessa, who was visiting from California, and my best friend who happened to be having her birthday party the same weekend.

To make things even better, Russell Cannings called me on Thursday to tell me he was currently staring at a Great Egret in the Nanaimo Estuary. I rolled my eyes. My friend's birthday party was Saturday and my girlfriend had just flown in, and I was working on how to explain to them I was going to Nanaimo at 5am. Luckily, I worked it out so we would only be gone the day, and would be able to make the party.

By 8am, we were in Nanaimo. The rain had eased off over night, the air was crisp with that tangible texture of Fall. The soggy estuary was busy with birds. Ravens croaking, and the "chit chit" of Ruby-crowned Kinglets was ever present. I heard my first Golden-crown of the fall, its buzzy, off-key whistle resounded over the estuary.

Nanaimo Estuary

The first ponds by the viewing tower were empty so we slogged our way out into the estuary. For some reason I thought there was a trail out there, but was mistaken, as it is basically a find your own way to the water's edge, this meant navigating through all kinds of wet grass and shrubbery, as well as hopping over tributaries. Vanessa came ill prepared, wearing some sort of slip on shoes, which were soon soaked entirely through. We met a photographer who had been searching since sunrise without so much as a glimpse of the white Heron.

Out on the shores there were at least 10 Great Blues. Russell had said that they were harassing the Egret constantly, so perhaps by now they had finally driven if off completely. By the time we got back to the car, we were thoroughly drenched. Vanessa had to abandon her shoes and wear a pair of my dress shoes and continue sock-less for the rest of the day.

We dried out in the car as I checked out various other vantages to the estuary, but still no sign of the Egret. I figured best bet would be to drive up the Island and check out a few other hot spots in hopes of finding something rare, or maybe even relocating the Egret.

Englishman River was buzzing with birds: large flocks of American Robin devoured berries along the trail, with a few Varied Thrush, lots of Waterfowl filled the river and marsh. I spotted one soggy looking Orange-crowned Warbler, and had a close encounter with one of Parksvilles tiny Black-tailed Deer.

Black-tailed Deer-Englishman River Estuary 

Qualicum Beach had a large raft of Bonepart's Gulls. I checked over the flock with a fine toothed comb for anything rare like a Black-headed or Little Gull. At Little Qualicum Estuary, the winds were starting to pick up and a few Black-bellied Plover huddled together, bracing themselves against the cold. The rain had started to fall in buckets again. Autumn birding does not leave a lot of daytime hours and with only three left before sunset and a ferry reservation waiting, it was time to make one last ditch effort at the Nanaimo estuary.


Russell was meeting us nearby at a campground that has a good trail underneath a power line right of way. I found him down the trail pishing up a storm of Kinglets that included a pair of Townsend's Warblers. We continued down the trail, hoping to find something good, when he received a text that another birder was currently watching the Egret by the viewing tower. It was all the info we needed to book it back to our vehicles and beat it to the estuary.

When we got there, the birder was waving us over. The pond the Egret was in was well concealed, but as we got closer, I could see his pure white head and yellow bill through the tall grass. I stopped to get a good view in my binoculars. Success! As we approached the bird, a Great Blue Heron flew in and flushed the Egret up into the air. The obnoxious Heron kept chase, and the Egret drifted far out to the estuary, touching down in some far, out-of-reach puddle.

While not the greatest view, we still saw our bird. And it was a special one at that, my 350th of the year. 350 was the number I had chosen as my goal. A number that throughout the year had seemed so daunting, and it was. It took me exactly 9 and 1/2 months, that's like a baby right there.

I was proud of myself for accomplishing something that was reachable, but by no means easy. It took a huge amount of work; I spent so so many hours becoming more and more determined throughout the year. Without people like Russell, and Mark Phinney, or Rob Lyske, I doubt I could have done it on my own. Pure luck has also played a part in it as much as anything else, because who really has a Chestnut-sided Warbler just fall into their boat 30 miles out to sea?

Long-billed Dowitcher

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